Friday, September 24, 2010

“Orange Hat Blues”


c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved
(8-10)




Moving is a chore with which I have become uncomfortably familiar over the years.

Writers have a natural tendency to accumulate things for future reference. So my personal collection of books, records, and pop-culture artifacts has grown steadily since childhood. Dutifully, I have trucked that mass around the country while finding new places to live.

Three years ago, a shortage of space and abundance of household members forced me to rent a local storage unit. The move that followed seemed undeniably strange. I didn’t inherit a different address, but many of my possessions found a new zip code. It was an exercise in modern living that made me think hard about the need for discipline when gathering ‘junk.’

This three-year displacement of things finally ended over the past weekend. After a few trips to my rented cubicle, I reclaimed those lost treasures.

The house was now filled with old cardboard boxes – and lots of personal recollections.

I stood in the mess for awhile, drinking coffee and pondering memories. Then, a glow of orange peeked out from one of the containers. When I looked closer, a vintage hunting cap appeared.

It was a promotional keepsake offered by Schmidt Beer of Pennsylvania.

Impulsively, I decided to wear the hat while running errands in Chardon. It was a simple choice that would affect the rest of my day.

At the post office, bubbly clerk Fay Glondi reacted to my choice of headwear with a wink and a grin.

“Hey, I didn’t know you were a hunter!” she squealed. “I love homemade deer jerky!”

My embarrassment was obvious. “I hunt vinyl records and old guitars, not wild game.”

“You hunt vinyl records?” she whimpered.

“That’s right,” I said.

She looked confused. But I left without offering a further explanation.

At the public library, former councilperson Carrie Hamglaze was studying items on The Drudge Report. She noted my orange cap immediately.

“What a great cultural statement you’ve got there!” she proclaimed. “An American vision worthy of wearing to Tea Party events or a Glenn Beck speech…”

Politely, I interrupted her thought.

“It’s just something that was in the storage space,” I said. “My first wife’s family was from Pennsylvania. I must’ve purchased it while roaming around Titusville or Oil City.”

She looked disappointed. Quietly, she returned to reading pages on her laptop computer.

Across the room was Joe Celenka. He had been a pipefitter in the 1970’s. Now, he was a regular participant in the Geauga County Oral History Project.

“Nice hat, buddy!” he cheered, while checking his watch.

“Thanks,” I said with acceptance.

“That look won’t get you into the country club,” he snorted. “But I like it. A big, bold slice of working man’s attire.”

“Everyone seems to appreciate this cap,” I confessed. “I’ve had it packed away for several years.”

“Who could ignore that color?” he laughed. “It’s a shade of orange that demands attention… kinda like my discussion group!”

I nodded affirmation. “Talk to you later!”

While Joe began telling stories about walking a union picket line in Cleveland, I exited with an armload of books.

At a gas station across town, burly mechanic Nate Strehlka saluted as I approached his counter.

“Schmidt Beer!” she half-shouted. “Yes sir, I’ve had lots of that brew in the old days. Did you know they had collector’s cans in the 1960’s? Most of ‘em were wildlife scenes.”

I nodded. “Of course. A few of those turned up in the woods when I lived on Wearsch Road.”

“Really?” he mused. “You still got those cans?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“Interested in letting them go?” he asked.

“Nah,” I declined. “Never sell anything - that’s my motto.”

I peeled out a twenty-dollar bill, and left before he could argue the point.

At the local theater, I paused to buy tickets for an upcoming show.

Actress Marlene DiCelle was at the box office, helping with weekday chores.

“Oh, I loooove that hat!” she purred. “So ironic. Like an essay by Oscar Wilde.”

“What??” I coughed.

“You are brave to make such an artful gesture in public,” she beamed.

“Umm… what??” I repeated.

“A wordless remark on everyday life in the Midwest,” she said. “Living for nothing more than a trophy deer and a low-buck beer…”

“It’s a flea-market relic from Pennsylvania,” I said. “The only statement I’m making is the hat was brand new and cost 99 cents.”

Marlene bowed behind her counter. “Well then, have a nice day!”

At Circle K, red-haired cashier Cyndi Krale giggled about my hat.

“Heyy man,” she teased. “That’s so retro! A cool fashion statement. I read on Facebook that old man beers are in this season.”

I bowed my head. “Old… man?”

“Yeah!” she said, rolling her eyes. “Pibber and Schlitz.”

“Pibber?” I mumbled.

“Pee Bee Arr!” she complained. “Pabst Blue Ribbon. And Schlitz, like your hat.”

I corrected her gently. “It says SCHMIDT’S not Schlitz.”

“Whatever!” she stammered. “Schlitz, Schmidt’s, Spitz… old man beers.”

I was speechless.

“You know, the redneck stuff people liked when my grandpa was young!” she squeaked at last.

“And… when was that?” I wondered out loud.

“You know, the Vietnam days!” she said. “He talks about them every year at Christmas…”

That was enough. I paid for two hot dogs and a Polar Pop. Cyndi was still babbling as I left her store.

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